Rex is a digger. He tunnels us fast and hard like he’s desperate for someplace else. This is probably how he ended up at the shelter, and why the woman with the cat sweater offered to waive the adoption fee if I took him, straightaway.
At first, I fought Rex on the digging. The homeowners’ association was already all over me after my wife painted the front door lime green. Rex ripping through the sidewalks wasn’t helping my case. His nails sliced through concrete like he was pawing water. Neighbors who could have knocked on my door mailed me bills from cement masons for the newly poured pads. The charges added up, and I yanked hard on Rex’s leash when he swiped at the ground.
But some dogs dig. What could I do? And the neighborhood kids liked pushing their palms into the wet cement to leave their prints.
Rex and I tested walking in unpopulated areas. We tried the woods, but the ground was too soft, and he dug fast. I jogged to keep up with him, and the trees trunks collapsed, braiding like latticework behind us.
We left the woods and stuck to abandoned fields of wildflowers. Sometimes I tried to steer him to see if we could make patterns with the tunnels, but then, in the produce aisle of the grocery store, people started hysterically arguing about crop circles and aliens while bruising the peaches they squeezed, so Rex and I cut it out.
I thought swimming might be a better exercise for him. I put him in water. I unclipped his leash and let him part El Roy’s Pond. He was Moses, and the startled mallards took flight, abandoning their ducklings. Rex tunneled the pond’s bottom, but he scared himself in the tsunamis he triggered to his left and right. By the time he scampered back to me, the pond was empty, every cattail on the bank was snapped in half, and fish flopped in the muddy grass. He flooded the land in every direction.
Rex put his tail between his legs and whimpered on the walk home. He did not dig.
I patted him on the head and told him he was a good boy. We took the ducklings with us and put them in a kiddie pool in our backyard. The one with the broken wing died. Rex dug its grave. Eventually, the rest flew off to someplace else.
Since then, Rex has only dug deep instead of far. No more tunnels, just a massive hole. We have given him the backyard. He comes up from the hole muddy and sneezing dirt. When I wait by the gate to the outside world and hold up his leash, he ignores me. My wife stands on the back patio, hands on her hips, wearing an old tee shirt stained with lime green paint. She watches Rex’s frantic pawing for hours. Then she calls the man with the skid-steer. He grades the yard back to level, and we nod to Rex, letting him know he may begin again.
KELSEY ENGLERT’s writing has appeared in Passages North, The Citron Review, Bartleby Snopes, and The Broken Plate, among other literary magazines. She is a Pennsylvania native and earned her M.A. in creative writing from Ball State University and M.F.A. in creative writing from West Virginia University. She currently teaches at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.